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Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Bulbophyllum frostii

Tiny boots. Wooden clogs. Elf shoes. Just about everyone has a footwear-related description of these flowers. 

They have an abundance of Bulbophyllum charm: a fringe of hairs, a hinged lip, and a decidedly off odor that most people politely overlook. 

Bulbophyllum frostii grows as an epiphyte in tropical lowland forests in Vietnam, Thailand and the Malay Peninsula. Like many other bulbophyllums, it has flowers that mimic carrion, making it attractive to flies that pollinate it.

Our Bulbophyllum frostii are thriving in 4" cedar baskets, but would be equally happy mounted on cork slabs. B. frostii is not fussy with respect to temperature. Warm or intermediate temperatures and 50% shade suit it just fine.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Cynorkis guttata

Cynorkis are terrestrial and lithophytic orchids whose center of distribution is Africa, Madagascar and the surrounding islands. I planted our first Cynorkis --C. fastigiata-- in the Orchid Display House in 2005, and it flowered soon after. When a seedling germinated nearby a year later, I was pretty excited. And then another germinated. And another. We now have C. fastigiata appearing spontaneously in unrelated pots in distant greenhouses. I finally had to admit: I'd planted a weed. So, naturally, I expected some ridicule from my co-workers when I purchased this guy, Cynorkis guttata. But what a handsome plant.

C. guttata is one of 120 or so species of Cynorkis. In their 2007 description in the Orchid Review, Johan Hermans and Phillip Cribb note that it is fairly common (not a huge surprise) in the highlands of Madagascar. And they report seeing plants in degraded habitats on rocky outcrops at 1800 meters elevation.

If you have mastered growing Habenaria rhodocheila and H. medusa, this plant will be easy. The underground tubers simply need a dry rest after the foliage withers. 'Dry rest' means less frequent watering, not complete cessation. We let ours become almost bone dry, then we water it. The appearance of the new shoot is our signal to increase the watering frequency.

Friday, May 9, 2014

A Little World

Do you love miniatures? Miniature orchids have a fan base of ardent followers who love to treasure hunt in the Tropical High Elevation House. And there are lots to find. You will find Masdevallia Maui Lollipop directly across from the entrance.

Tucked in the trees are some Dracula inaequalis with their bell-like flowers. Inside the bell is a tiny petal (the lip) that is hinged, like a clapper.

The tangerine flowers of Masdevallia Kimballiana are a terrific find in the back of the High Elevation House. Kimballiana flowers almost continuously throughout the year. And there are many more! Stop by this Mother's Day weekend.

Monday, April 28, 2014

Good Morning High Elevation House

Early morning in the Tropical High Elevation House --it's one of my favorite refuges. The air is cool and the sound of the waterfall is tranquil. After a hair-raising commute in Atlanta traffic, it is soothing. Like being in Ecuador again.

Fallen logs are a common sight if you are hiking in an Ecuadorean forest. They sometimes carry a treasure load of epiphytic plants--orchids, bromeliads, begonias, gesners--plants that you normally see only through binoculars. To achieve the fallen-log effect in the HEH, we selected a 7' driftwood branch, mounted epiphytic orchids on it, and placed it at an angle in front of the waterfall. The base rests on the stream bank and the tip leans toward the face of the waterfall. After a year, the orchids are established and starting to flower. This month four species of Maxillaria are flowering simultaneously.

Maxillaria lehmannii, with the regal white flower grows as an epiphyte in wet montane cloud forests in western Ecuador and Peru. To its left, is the adorable Maxillaria coccinea, with coral flowers. It grows in Colombia, Venezuela, Brazil and the Caribbean at 500 to 1000 meters. It doesn't seem to mind the cool temperatures in the HEH.

Closer to the base is Maxillaria c.f splendens, with nodding elongated flowers. M. splendens comes from Peru, where it grows as an epiphyte at 2000 meters elevation.

And finally, my mystery Maxillaria, source unknown, nicely embedded in the moss carpet that is overtaking our branch.

Don't forget to visit the Tropical High Elevation House when you are visiting the Fuqua Orchid Center!

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Tubular Flowers

More fruit-colored tubular flowers from the Tropical High Elevation House. All of our tropical blueberries produce flowers that look good enough to eat, Cavendishia macrantha included. I love the two-tone melon/honeydew colored flowers. They are followed by berries that are rich in anti-oxidants.

And a completely unrelated plant, a bromeliad, possibly a Guzmania, with tubular olive flowers. The flowers arise from translucent pink bracts.

Here's a look at the entire plant, with its narrow linear leaves, glossy red stem and long internodes. Quite striking.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

On Fire

The glowing flame-colored flowers in the Tropical High Elevation House belong to Columnea flexiflora. Those tubular red flowers seem desperate to get the attention of a long-beaked hummingbird.

Columneas are members of the African Violet family (Gesneriaceae, aka the gesneriads). Since I spent three years sweating (cheerfully) in the greenhouses of a wholesale gesneriad grower, I was startled, years later, to see these guys growing at 9,000 ft elevation on the chilly slopes of Andean Ecuador. There are actually quite a few gesneriads adapted to cool tropical climates, many with the tubular red flowers so appealing to hummingbird pollinators. Warm blooded pollinators like birds are more active in cool climates than insect pollinators. Since we don't have hummingbirds, the columneas in our Tropical High Elevation House will have to settle for the attentions of humans instead.

The type specimen (upon which the published description was based) was collected in 1980 in Ecuador north of Gualaquizza at 1600 meters elevation by Dr Cal Dodson, distinguished orchid botanist.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Behind the Scenes: Repotting

Orchid repotting starts early here--in February. The catasetums and their relatives (Mormodes, Cycnoches, Clowesia) are always first off the mark, producing new growth before any other group of tropical orchids. For these guys, there is a window of opportunity for repotting, an optimal time between the appearance of the new shoot and the maturing of the new pseudobulb, that lasts only about a month. After that it's too late. If we miss that window, we have to wait another year.

Because the Catasetinae repotting season coincides with Orchid Daze, sometimes it's a race to finish repotting them before the window slams shut. As you can see in the photo above, I'm running late on repotting: the basal part of the new new shoot on our Mormodes has already begun to thicken and the new roots are at a dangerously fragile stage in their development. They break so easily!

We have been growing our catasetums, cycnoches and mormodes in a bark based mix (which they prefer here) in net pots with large openings. To keep the bark from emptying out the bottom, we have been lining the net baskets with moss--with unhappy results. The moisture in the sphagnum produces a spectacular growth of mold on the bark. Eww. Time for a new approach!

First, I wash the root mass to gently remove some old potting medium and to expose the roots. It then becomes easy to see that many of the roots attached to the older pseudobulbs have died. This is typical. Catasetums have a strongly annual growth cycle and put a tremendous amount of energy every year into new root and shoot production. Many of the older roots shut down at the onset of dormancy. I cut those away with a clean razor blade.

This year I'm using using net pots with smaller holes. No moss is needed as a liner. That should eliminate the mold problem. The new net pots are manufactured for hydroponic growing.

Next, I center the new shoot in the pot, with the older growths against the side. I hold the plant in my left hand as I fill the pot with mix using my right hand. The potting medium is equal parts fir bark, charcoal and sponge rock. We make the mix ourselves from the individual components.I like to rinse the bark under running water beforehand to remove the dust and sediment sized particles.

The label and data card goes on last. Labels are always attached to the pot with telephone wire --plastic coated 22 gauge copper wire. We can't risk losing the data.

An afternoon's repotting. There will be more next week!

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Paphiopedilum chamberlainianum

Paphiopedilum chamberlainianum is one of the prettiest slippers in our collection. And although our plant originated in a commercial laboratory, it is impossible for me to look at it without remembering that the history of this species in cultivation is bittersweet.  P. chamberlainianum was part of the great wave of 19th century orchid introductions motivated by profit, not science.

Paphiopedilum chamberlainianum is endemic to a fairly small area on the island of Sumatra. It was introduced into cultivation in Britain the late 1890's by the orchid nursery, F. Sander & Sons. The nursery, founded by Henry Frederick Conrad Sander in 1881, specialized in orchid species and was supplied by numerous collectors commissioned by Sander to collect plants in both New and Old World tropics. Sander & Sons was just one of several firms fueling the orchid craze with vast quantities of orchids.

One of Sander's collectors, Wilhelm Micholitz, collected extensively on expeditions to the Philippines (Phalaenopsis micholitzii), Moluccas, New Guinea (Coelogyne micholitzii), Burma and South America. Micholitz shipped Paphiopedilum chamberlainianum (as P. victoria-regina) to Sander & Sons from Sumatra. Like many slippers, P. chamberlainianum has an extremely narrow distribution, making it vulnerable to over collection and habitat loss.

Our Paphiopedilum chamberlainianum seems to always be in flower. Each inflorescence produces four to eight flowers, opening one at a time over a period of several months.

If you're having trouble distinguishing Paphiopedilum chamberlainianum from other closely related species, remember that P. chamberlainianum is characterized by stripes on the dorsal sepals, P. glaucophyllum by its glaucous (dusty blue-grey) leaves, and P. liemianum by leaves bearing hairs on the margins and purple spots on the undersides.

Our Paphiopedilum chamberlainianum is happiest when we can keep the greenhouse temperature in the intermediate range (58º night minimum; 82º day maximum), a task grown more challenging in recent years as the outdoor temperatures trend upward.

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